With every ministry comes a story as to how it got started and the direction it took. This is our story, which shares the Lord at work in guiding us toward the work that we’ve been called to do, and His still guiding us as we continue to move forward in serving those who help the oppressed.
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
Release the Oppressed Ministries Chapter One
by Tom Harvey
Ann and I have been serving in missions since 1983. We were single then, Ann receiving her call to missions while attending an Urbana conference, while I had been on a one year service in Haiti. After meeting at Moody Bible Institute in 1984, we both were drawn of the Lord to look into full time service overseas. Ann did a summer tour with Operation Mobilization, working in the Arab district of London, while I was doing language studies, and then we married in 1987. We were studying Central Asian Turkic languages and eventually moved with our first baby in 1988, to Northwest China, where we lived for the next 10 years.
While there, we had another child, and just as we had been praying about having a third child, a good friend brought us an abandoned baby with a double cleft palate. Little Dennis stayed with us for the next and last five months of his life, changing our lives forever. The Lord had already made it clear to us, that we would be leaving China in 1988, and so we had hoped to secure Dennis’ adoption and still have two years to say goodbye to our friends there, and come home to whatever God had for our growing family. But while Dennis was alive, we saw God do some amazing things; seeing people find faith in Christ, seeing a community of love led people form, all because of our (the community’s) caring for an abandoned child. Dennis had organ damage internally too though, and one night, after battling a slight fever from teething, he died in our arms.
During his short life on earth, he blessed many lives and left many dear friends; local doctors who offered to do his operation for free, nurses from the hospital visiting us daily, government and police and school officials who advised us as to what we could and could not do as foreigners; yet who had a heart for Dennis, and acted as guardian angels. Some people we’d known for 7 years as neighbors and acquaintances we only somewhat knew, helped Dennis and us in so many ways, and once surface relationships had now become quite deep. It was an amazing time. We even had met some local Christians who were offering help, who had a ministry themselves, of rescuing babies who get abandoned. They opened our eyes to the love that so many of God’s people have for the orphaned there in China.
That said our eyes were also opened to the harsh reality of life in a fallen world. All over the world, children are the ones who suffer the most, when grownups make war or are ruled by their greed. It happens in every country. But for us, our eyes were opened to it through the way many just wanted children like Dennis, destroyed. Whole systems were and are in place, which make ministering to children like Dennis, very difficult. Had we not the prayers of so many, and the help of officials and friends and neighbors, it could have gone very badly for our son and for our chances of remaining in the country at all. But God did a beautiful thing. I could go on and on about how many people’s lives were touched by this little child, and of the community of connected people who cherish life, many of whom came to faith themselves along the way, by our having this time with Dennis. At his funeral were fully 80 such people. The funeral was, as was local custom, 40 days after his passing, and by then it was a celebration of this baby who God had given us all to love.
Dennis is the exception. We knew that. So many babies are abandoned worldwide, who never get to live and be loved, and to love back. Our hearts were broken when Dennis passed on, but healing came to us through the love of Christ, and during the healing process, we received a letter from WEC International, announcing that they had just launched a new ministry called, Rainbows of Hope. We were thrilled!
WEC is in more than 70 countries, and ROH is a ministry that trains and helps believers in these areas, to reach out to all children in crisis: Child soldiers, child prostitutes, abandoned and abused children, HIV positive children and kids orphaned due to AIDS, street children, child laborers, child prisoners, etc. The goal is that on each field, that those children most at risk, would be reached out to by the local fellowship. No church will ever really be strong, if they neglect the oppressed. God has made that quite clear.
Ann and I have seen, not only through Dennis, but through testimonies from fields who have included ministry to children in crisis, many examples of God raising up strong believers who have prophetic gifting and gifts of mercy; who are passionate about seeing oppressed people reached and relieved. It is funny how people who are so into evangelism and church planting, look to new believers and hope that they’ll find teachers and evangelists among them, and are later surprised to find that God has given gifts “to each one, just as He determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Our natural thinking would tell us that the first thing any church needs in order to increase, are evangelists and teachers. And while it is wonderful to have evangelists and teachers in the church, God is raising up believers in young fellowships all over the world, who are living in communities that are responding to the joy and hope that the believers share, no matter their gifting. And mercy people, who love to help the hurting, and prophetic people who desire justice and see God’s image in every human being; are being raised up to show the world the hope that we have.
Scripture tells us that people without Jesus, are “Without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). There are many communities that missionaries are sent to, full of people who may never, for whatever reason, believe the truth that we know. But many of these same people are being amazed at the hope that we have. To display hope, the believer must enter a situation where hope is needed. And that means either we will suffer or we will enter into the suffering situations of others. It is there where people without hope take notice. It is in these situations when we are asked about the hope that is within us.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15).
These same people who may turn off when we start talking about our Jesus, because they are wary of the truth we know, may come alive when they see the hope that they’ve not experienced, lived out in the lives that reach out to oppressed people. It is at these times, when people will ask us how we can have hope. When we are doing what everyone around us can do, we are not displaying the hope that is within us. I remember in Haiti, in the area we lived, the infant mortality rate was so high, that for fear of the devastation that comes from losing a child without having that connection with Jesus our hope, that people wouldn’t even name their babies for the first 9 months of their lives. But some of the Christians did name their babies. Why? Christians have hope. Not just hope for heaven; but we have hope that the living God who loves us now, can heal us now. We can live abandoned lives of love and deeds that require risking a broken heart; because our God draws us close. Then the world asks, “How can you do that?” “How can you name your infant?” “How can you pick up that child with the cleft palate and love them. Don’t you know that they may die and break your heart?”
Yes, we know it. But we know God. We have hope. And that is what all these questions are asking. And some powerful evangelism and church growth follows, when our hope is on display like that. And so it is a real joy and pleasure serving Rainbows of Hope as their teams coordinator and personnel placement coordinator. And that has been our position with the mission for the last 14 years and joyfully continues to be so.
So why Release the Oppressed Ministries? Why start something on the side? Aren’t you busy enough? Because it is really about just doing what God leads us to do. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes from the Rhema words of Christ. Faith is one of the four pillars of WEC International. And so we are very grateful that we serve in a mission that allows us to follow Christ into new adventures as He leads.
Here’s how ROM came about. Over the past 14 years of seeing hundreds of people apply to the mission through Rainbows of Hope, and getting to hear their visions for ministry, we get excited about them. Fellowship is a powerful thing. That is a second of WEC’s four pillars. (The other two are Sacrifice and Holiness). When people write us and visit us and share their visions from God, we get very excited. But not all who we experience fellowship with, are going to fit into ROH’s ministry. And there can be many good reasons for this. WEC is in 70 countries, for example; but some of these people come to us feeling specifically called to another country.
That is just one reason they may not fit into WEC. Some folk have taken early retirement and have a lot of life experience. They look at the requirements of a large mission organization, and it just isn’t what they feel God would have them do. One orphanage we used to work with, was in a country that WEC had been considering making into a new field. We at ROH developed a wonderful relationship with this orphanage, and even sent workers there and teams. Then the mission decided that this country had a strong national church and that WEC needed to focus on less reached countries. There are many reasons why not everyone will fit into any particular mission agency.
It was this particular situation that opened our eyes to the possibilities of what has become ROM. The particular orphanage in that particular country, is a wonderful ministry. And to this day we have a wonderful relationship and send them teams, and they are so well run as a holistic ministry to traumatized children, that they in turn, provide those we send, with wonderful training. In my position as personnel placement and teams coordinator, WEC was happy for me to continue helping this orphanage. As teams came and went, one Pastor and his church team went there and felt a call to help them really get established with their own US board. Soon, they had people in place to do their personnel work and they were able to do a much better job of it than I was doing. They got an office in America and started coordinating many teams themselves, and doing the finances, and maintaining the website, and doing the personnel work, and sending much more support and help than I could ever give.
Over the years, we’ve seen people who had great vision, simply not find an organization that they could become a part of, for whatever reason. We would have wonderful fellowship, and their calling was so strong, and we wanted to do much more for them, to help them launch the ministry that God had called them to. But we were busy, and we were just me and Ann, with our limited gifts and abilities. Ann could mobilize prayer and she’s a wonderful editor and has gifts of wisdom and mercy and lots of missions experience. I love organizing teams and doing leadership training for teams and I can do personnel work, screening applicants and gathering references for a ministry, etc. But to launch a ministry takes much more!
In the spring of 2010, God started encouraging not only my life, but in Ann’s and in my sister Sandra’s heart, to do more. Starting an organization or new ministry is not something that I ever would have ventured into doing. But God is always changing us and bringing us into new things. It is that hope that we have, that enables Him to lead us onward and upward even at age 52! And so He was doing so for us. We were getting freed up, all three of us, and eager to start something. We could feel it, but what?
The two scriptures that kept coming as we prayed about what kind of ministry, to me, were: Luke 4:18 and John 20:21, which say respectively:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…”
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.'”
Whatever this new ministry was going to be, it was going to be about releasing the oppressed. When we looked at our passions and what we could see ourselves doing, R.O.M. started taking shape. And the more we thought about it, the more delight we felt the Lord would have, if we could serve those who have a vision to go out to such people, to bring Christ’s freedom and hope.
Besides Ann’s and my gifts, Sandra is a graphic artist and has her own website design company “WEBits Design.” And she loves making the sites that she makes, but she felt it was time to do more in ministry. Soon we realized that we could offer people at least enough help, to get them started. Through prayer and editing and media design, and the forming of teams and screening personnel for a fledgling ministry, God could bring that ministry just the right people, that in time, someone falling in love with that ministry would become more to them, so that ROM could become less. Release the Oppressed Ministries, as an idea, was realized then. But how to get started, we were not sure.
We knew we needed help and so we went to visit a wonderful Christian man, who is a lawyer who specializes in non-profit organization start ups. He looked at our ideas and immediately told me that in order to get tax exemption and to be able to do anything to help these new ministries with finances, that we would need a board of directors that would be at least 7 people; and not related to my sister and my wife and I. Who knew?!? Not I! So we prayed.
Everyone I know who I would want to work with is so flat out busy serving in their churches. The concept of ROM is not the easiest to understand, “So these ministries are not partnerships?” “You won’t have any ROM missionaries?” “You don’t receive any salaries? This is all volunteer work?” “No ownership of any of the ministries? You just help them to launch successfully?” “What do you at ROM get for your troubles?” (We get to see God have a lot of fun, rescuing people!) And God answered our prayer within 3 days.
I was already scheduled to have lunch with my friend Pahl Davis. Pahl and I used to go to the same church, and we had about 10 years ago, started a men’s Bible study at that church, which is still going strong today. I would not have dreamed of asking Pahl to be on my board, because the man works with huge projects and has been extremely successful in land development. Besides, he has his own non-profit charity that he works! But I knew I could ask him what I should do to go about it. We met at Chic-fil-a, and I tried my best to explain ROM.
“He got it! He totally got it! and he encouraged me to go for it. And in my excitement, I forgot how important this man is, and just blurted out, “Would you be on our board?? It just came out of my mouth before I remembered how busy this man must be, and we were soon shaking hands.”
Every two weeks, I meet with Pastor Scott Hilbourn. We are good friends. I love his church and know him to have a lot of wisdom. He prays and God answers his prayers. And he laughs at my jokes. What more could I ask for? If Pahl Davis got it and was willing to be one of our board members, I was now not at all shy to ask anyone. Scott would either tell me yes or no, and that would be it. Scott said yes! He not only said ‘yes,’ but he reminded me of our many “Apostolic Men’s Retreats” that we had held over about a 3 year period. Could this be an answer to some of our praying from these retreats?
“The Apostolic Men’s Retreat,” was something that Scott, and Steve Hodge and I started, back in 2007. Every quarter, when the office of Rainbows of Hope was empty due to all the staff being on ministry trips, I would block out 3 days for an Apostolic Men’s Retreat. The ROH offices are an old bed and breakfast that was built over a century ago. We have 14 beds upstairs that we use when training our missions teams, or when we do a conference or training for workers who are going to be working with traumatized children. The staff was very happy for me to host these Men’s Retreats.
The retreats were specifically meant for men who are at crossroads in their ministries, to come and hear from God. We spend the first two hours in prayer, and then we split up for most of the weekend and just quietly have devotions and prayer. Each man before or after one of the meals, will be responsible to give a talk for 20 minutes, designed to encourage us to get back to praying. During the week we would have a selected book to read, so that during meal times we didn’t talk about the food, but kept the fellowship stretching. The books might be about the apostolic ministry, or the prophetic ministry, or Jonathan Edwards sermons, or such. Usually a book that nobody has read, and that will inspire us to hear from God and to step into whatever it is He has for us. We hadn’t had a retreat in about 6 months and I wasn’t sure when the next one might happen. So when Scott reminded me of this, it was just amazing that I never made the connection. Of course God was answering prayer. ROM is all about apostolic ministry. It is all about launching new ministries into new areas where nobody is yet working; bringing Jesus to people who are usually kept out of earshot of the gospel. Oppressed peoples!
Well, after that of course, I ran over to Steve’s house. Steve is an amazing thinker! I can’t even tell you what he does for work, but the man is a mathematician, and has a job in a large bank in downtown Charlotte. Would he be our treasurer and finance person? I started explaining to Steve, about the ministry, and before I was anywhere near finishing the explanation, he said, “Yes, I would love to be a part of that!”
In two days we had 6 out of 7 board members, and I couldn’t have picked better ones if I’d tried. Honestly, this was not even work. I was just running around telling great friends about what God was doing. And this is what ROM is all about. Finding out what great things God is doing in the lives of people who He is leading into ministry to oppressed peoples, and saying “yes” a lot.
I got in my car and then headed out to have coffee with Todd Lowther. Todd and I were very new friends at the time. Both of us were relatively new to the church we attend. Many people had reached out to me and my family when we began going to this church, but Todd was one of the ones who particularly reached out and we’d become fast friends. Todd is retired, and I knew that he used to work with Easter Seals. I had no idea how many boards he had been on. He’d been an elder at a church for many years, on the board at Easter Seals, and as I started explaining the idea of ROM to him, of the no ownership of ministries, and of the constantly becoming less to a ministry so that others can become more to the ministries, so that they no longer need ROM, he immediately could think of 2 or 3 people who he wished ROM had been available for. He described these situations to me, and I could tell right away that he knew just what we were feeling called to do. And “yes,” of course he would be part of this.
And so there we were! There are several testimonies that I could share, of how things have progressed to the point where we are now meeting people who have a call to reach out to oppressed people; and how God is already connecting us in fellowship. I even have a very funny story about God’s provision of finances.
ROM will never solicit funds ourselves. In fact, as full time WEC workers, Ann and I could never do that anyway. But all on the board have our own offices at home or at the mission that we can work from, and so there’s very little overhead. Funds that come in, will be used to launch the latest ministries that we are seeing God launch. And we are feeling God’s pleasure in doing this launching stuff. So far it has been just a blast.
Stay tuned for chapter 2. But I also encourage you if you have read this far, to click on some of the other first chapters of Launch Ministries, such as Dhruba Kumar Pariyar, Hugo and Gilma Caballeros, Irene Partipilo, Patrick and Soonja, Uttam, and Lucinda Shelton. They will inspire you. And if God leads you to start a ministry to oppressed people, let us know if we can help.